Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bibliophile: South Park and the Late Foucault

Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou.

...if Thou Art Bibliophile.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Space paths untaken

A friend forwarded an opportunity to me, recently.  It's a writer's retreat out of an organization called Sage Hill.  Specifically, she thought I might be interested in their weeklong science fiction writing workshop, headed by sci-fi writer Spider Robinson.  And I was.  First, Sage Hill is a great organization, and their Writing Experience has been career-altering for a number of friends of mine.  (If you're interested in that sort of thing yourself, I'd recommend checking them out: Second, to work with Spider Robinson would be amazing.  He's probably my favorite science fiction writer (Category: fictionalized novels and/or living) and I would absolutely love to have some one-on-one time with him.  Finally, writing is a passion of mine, as you've hopefully guessed by now--you don't reach 600+ blogposts doing something you don't want to do.  A chance to move professionally with writing is a dream of mine, one that I've put away for the slightly (very slightly) more practical dream of the related passion of scholarship.  It's not just an opportunity; it's a huge opportunity.

I decided not to apply.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Quotations: And a metaphor is a cement mixed

“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”
---Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Later Days.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Just Put the Ball Down

Nothing sets the tone for a day like dreaming about high school gym class.  A person should never have to say to another human being "you are taking dodgeball too seriously."

Later Days.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bibliophile: Year of Connolly, and the Introverts Inherit the Earth

If you got a big database, let me search it
And find out how hard I gotta work it
I put my book down, flip it and reverse it

This is Bibliophile.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Quotations: It Makes Games Sound Like a Whorehouse

"My friend Eric Zimmerman likes to say, 'Games are structures of desire.' I don’t like the phrase, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s pretty obscure; it needs to be explained before you ‘get’ it. Second, it makes games sound like a whorehouse.
"But Eric is on to something here. By 'desire,' he means that games have goals, and players mutually agree to behave as if the goal is important to them when they play – the game creates a desire to achieve the game’s own goals. By structure, he means that the interaction of the game’s rules, components, software, etc. create a structure within which people play." --Greg Costikyan

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recommendations: Web Comics

I read a lot of webcomics.  And that's an understatement.  At the moment, I regularly check out xkcd, the Gun Show, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Hark a Vagrant, Penny Arcade, Scenes From a  Multiverse, Guilded Age, Looking for Group, Girls With Slingshots, Questionable Content, Something Positive, Order of the Stick,Goblins, Starslip, Oglaf, Wondermark, Wonderella, and Girl Genius.  And I'm almost certainly forgetting some of them.  I thought that, for today's recommendation, I'd randomly blather on about three of them, chosen by a random number generator.  I'll discuss them, after break.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Recommendations: Embassytown

This should probably be a full book review, but I couldn't muster up the energy.  I guess some residual "lazy blogger" is still in my system.  Ah well; maybe it'll get close to that length anyway.  Embassytown is the latest book by China Mieville.  I just can't keep up with the guy--it seems like just yesterday, I was reviewing his last latest book, Kraken.  And just as Kraken broke new ground for Mieville as slightly more "down-to-earth" urban fantasy, Embassytown forges a new direction as well, taking Mieville away from fantasy entirely into the genre of science-fiction.  To be honest, there's not a huge difference; Mieville uses fantasy to construct fantastic and alien societies, and he uses science fiction in much the same way.  But with sci-fi, he can add cool hi-tech gadgets too.  And robots.  Gotta have robots.  More after the break.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recommendations: Cabin in the Woods

Go see it.  I can't tell you anything about it, plotwise, that wouldn't spoil it.  But take my word for it, and go see it.

It's written by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, Astonishing X-men, Runaways, and a good proportion of every pop culture artifact I've enjoyed over the last decade.  And Dollhouse.  But we don't talk about that one).  And directed by Goddard.  And it stars Amy Acker.  And Kristen Connelly.  And the guy from Thor.  More importantly, it stars Bradley Wittford (West Wing) and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under).  Go see it.

It's also been getting a lot of hyperbolic reviews.  Its detractors say it's not as clever as it thinks it is, and that it failed to properly deal with the racism and misogyny of the horror genre.  And its apologists say that it succeeded in making it so that no other horror movie can be made again.  Both of these statements are extreme.  It's a movie--it's under no obligation to save the world, and it's the end of anything; people said that Watchmen would be the end of superhero comics, but thirty years later, that has failed to be the case.  It's just a movie, but it's a good movie, and it's smart and fun.  And I can't tell you anything about the plot beyond the fact that there is a cabin in the woods.  Go see it.

Later days.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Recommendations: American Vampire

I thought I'd try a full week of daily blogging, to make up for the relative lack of posts in recent weeks.  And of course, as soon as I sit down, absolutely nothing worth writing about comes to mind.  So we'll try this: a week of me recommending various things, from various media.  Frankly, though, I suspect some will be less me recommending things and more me conducting a run-by analyzing.  Still, as the boy with the TNT plunger said, this might be fun.   Today's recommendation: the comic book series American Vampire, by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque.

It hasn't been so long since my last graphic novel recommendation, to be honest. But DMZ is a very different from American Vampire.  DMZ, from its beginning, had a message and a direction to it.  American Vampire is more rambling, more adventure-driven--though I suspect it has more depth to it than might be suggested at first glance.  To understand American Vampire, you need to pay attention to both words in its title, the American as much as the Vampire.  I've said previously that magic in fantasy literature is always a metaphor--the same holds true for supernatural creatures in general, and the vampire in particular.  In fact, the vampire has been one of the more heavily hit beings in recent popular culture memory, thanks to Vampire Diaries, True Blood, and, of course, Twilight.  But at the same time, the core associations of what a vampire means haven't really changed that much since Bram Stocker's Dracula: it's about blood, life-force, forbidden desires, and unnatural perversions.  Twilight directed the desires onto high school romance, True Blood mapped the perversions onto sexuality directly ("God Hates Fangs" as it says in the opening sequence), and Vampire Diaries... well, I've actually never seen Vampire Diaries.  Anyone want to fill me in, there?  The point is, American Vampire does something a little different. To the usual list of vampire symbolism, it adds one more: vampire as a metaphor for American history.

Plotwise, this happens fairly simply.  The power and genus of a vampire, in this story's fictional universe, depend on the region of the victim is from.  Japanese vampires depict a power set that's different from the Haitian vampire that's different from the European vampire.  And the story begins with the creation of Skinner Sweet, a Western outlaw that finds out he's got all the strength and speed of vampire without that pesky sunlight problem.  The first story arc alternates between Sweet in the Wild West, when he was originally turned (and it should be noted for horror fans that these portions were written by Stephen King), and the 20th century dawn of Hollywood, when he recruits his first accomplice.  Note that both of these time periods feature events that quintessentially American, that couldn't have occurred anywhere else but America.  Other arcs follow this pattern, taking place in the construction of the Hoover Dam in Nevada, and the German and Japanese fronts in WWII.  Sweets and his vampiric descendents are there to witness it all, and by their very presence, they construct an alternate view of American history, one based on vice and violence and bloodshed.

The metaphor is never the forefront of the plot; rather, it's the setting that adds local color, or at most drives the characters' motivations.  But it gives American Vampire another level of depth beyond the surface adventure stories, something that makes it stand up as more than either just another vampire story, or just another action comic book.  It's bloody, it's unflinching, and it's worth a look.

Later Days.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Biblophile: Somebody please think of the children

I read books like Scrooge McDuck handles money. I put them in a pile, swim through it like a fish, burrow through them like a gopher, and throw them in the air and let them hit me on the head. This is Bibliophile.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Quotations: Just Put Your Lips Together and Suck.

Hasn't been much blogging this week.  Between marking and reading and attending meetings and overseeing my students' final, there hasn't been much time for it.  And, frankly, not much enthusiasm.  I think the Cambridge post destroyed some of my soul.  So this week, we'll let Tali and her Emergency Induction Port do the work. Um, Mass Effect 3 spoiler, before you click on it.

Later Days.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bibliophile: the Cambridge Companion to Cambridge Companions

God, I need a drink.  And a nap.  And another drink.

This is Biblophile.

Learning my A, B,--see what that celebrity said about his neighbor's summer home?

I've been getting into Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchelli's recently (as in, within the last year) finished comic series, DMZ.  It's about an alternate reality where the US recently fell into a civil war, and Manhattan has become a DMZ between the two sides.  The hows and whys, I assume, will be dealt with eventually, but in the beginning stages, Wood and Burchelli have been focusing more on portraying what everyday life would be like in the zone. Viktor Shklovsky coined the term "defamiliarization" to describe how you could distance an audience from a familiar scene by presenting it in an unfamiliar way, and thus open them to a new perspective--tell a scene from the POV of a cockroach, for example.  DMZ is follows the opposite approach, in that it attempts to familiarize Western readers with demilitarized zones by moving one into the United States.  On that level, it can be extremely troubling to read.

..Okay, the real reason I find it hard to read is that DMZ keeps getting confused in my head with TMZ, the celebrity gossip site, and every time that happens, I feel like a terrible human being for just knowing about its existence.  But the first thing has a better ring to it.

Later Days.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Quotations: So Fighting Zombies Is Good, Then

"It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens thhat protect us from the reality of the face to face killing of another person; on the contrary it is the fantasy of face to face encounter with an enemy killed bloodily that we construct in order to escape the Real of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological operation."
--Slavoj Žižek

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Movie Buff: Midnight in Paris

For the past few months, people have been telling me to see Midnight in Paris, often on the basis that it's a film designed for an English grad student audience.  Well, I saw it, and... eh.  The plot, for those unfamiliar, is that Owen Wilson plays a movie script writer who dreams of writing the great novel, and is particularly enamored with the literary scene of early 20th century Paris.  He wanders the streets at night, and a car pulls up and takes him back to that time period.  He meets the literary figures he idolizes, and he learns a valuable lesson about living in one's own time.  And the whole thing left me a little cold. Maybe because it was so targeted for the English crowd--it felt like it was insisting that I should like it, just based on the subject matter.  Or maybe it's because I don't really care for modernism; you'd have to travel to the 18th century to interest me. 

The plot, as you may gather, is pretty simple and the message rather basic, so that also failed to enthrall.  The characters themselves varied a bit.  The contemporary, present-day characters are all pretty one-note: rich fiancee, overbearing father-in-law-to-be, pretentious snob acquaintance.  It's the lit characters who are the real draw.  Some are great--I loved the Gertrude Stein, and there was a bit of nuance to the Scott F. Fitzgerald.  Some are caricatures, like the Zelda Fitzgerald.  Hemingway is a scene-stealing performance, but it's really a little one-note once you get past the novelty of someone asking if you've ever shot a lion.  And speaking of caricatures, Owen Wilson's character is basically... well, Woody Allen.  It's his verbal tics, his predilections.  Hell, it doesn't take much squinting at the character description--Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of writing real, meaningful literature--to argue that is Woody Allen.  Allen's voice is a little to obvious in the film for me to get really into characters.  As a result, it's a film that feels more like an intellectual argument than a story.  And that's fine--as long as the argument is interesting.  This isn't, really.  "Don't get lost in the past" isn't a message that takes a lot of sophistication to grasp, or convey.  But at least Getrude Stein was nice, and the love for the city and setting of Paris really comes through.

Later Days.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reveries of a Solitary Dreamer

I dreamed last night that a friend of mine was dating Tik-Tok, He was the mechnical man from the third Wizard of Oz book.  He looked like this:
We all had to be really polite about it, because she was self-conscious about dating a fictional character.

Later Days.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bibliophile: Loser Sons, Privacy, and Wet Nudes

Roses are red.  Violets are blue.  Blog posts aren't really any color, because they exist primarily in digital form.  Unless the post has a background or something.

This is Bibliophile.